The goal of the research was to focus on the target frequencies while ignoring the distractor frequencies.
As we get older, we have an increasingly harder time ignoring distractions. According to new research in the Cell Press journal Neuron, by learning to discriminate a sound amidst progressively more disruptive distractions, we can diminish our distractibility.
A similar strategy might also help children with attention deficits or individuals with other mental challenges.
Distractibility (the inability to sustain focus on a goal due to attention to irrelevant stimuli) can have a negative effect on basic daily activities, and is a hallmark of the aging mind.
Where were we? Oh, right, the research. To address the problem, a team led by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco used sounds at various frequencies as targets along with distractors, with the goal of having trainees focus on the target frequencies while ignoring the distractor frequencies.
In both aged rats and older humans, trainees learned to identify the target tone in each training session through reinforcement feedback, and then they had to continue to correctly identify that target tone amidst progressively more challenging distractor frequencies. In both rats and humans, training led to diminished distraction-related errors, and trainees’ memory and attention spans improved. Also, electrophysiological brain recordings in both rats and humans revealed that neural responses to distractors were reduced.
“We show that by learning to discriminate amidst progressively more challenging distractions, we can diminish distractibility in rat and human brains,” says lead author Dr. Jyoti Mishra.
The approach could also be modified to help individuals struggling with a variety of distractions. “This same training could be generalized to more complex stimuli and across sensory modalities — such as auditory, visual, and tactile — to broadly benefit distractor processing in diverse impaired populations needing such training,” says senior author Dr. Adam Gazzaley.
In addition to highlighting the therapeutic potential of this type of brain training to improve our ability to focus with age, it also shows that even in the aged adult, the brain is responsive to learning-based approaches that can improve cognition.
Congrats if you read this without any distractions. …